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Resolutions passed at IPI Annual General Assembly

PRESS RELEASE - INTERNATIONAL

27 May 2005

Resolutions passed at IPI Annual General Assembly

SOURCE: International Press Institute (IPI), Vienna

(IPI/IFEX) - The following is a 24 May 2005 IPI press release:

Vienna, 24 May 2005

Resolutions passed by the 54th General Assembly in Nairobi, Kenya

Resolution on Funding for Public Service Broadcasting

Meeting at its Annual General Assembly on 23 May 2005 in Nairobi, Kenya, the IPI membership unanimously adopted a resolution stating that the funding for a Public Service Broadcaster ("PSB") is pivotal to its economic and editorial independence and overall success.

Funding can have a profound influence on programme content. The IPI membership believes that whatever the type of funding chosen should be stable and secure and free of all political, social, commercial and economic pressures.

The choice of funding should also allow the PSB to meet the needs of all sections of society, without bias to minorities, and should be flexible enough to meet new demands and fresh challenges.

Furthermore, regardless of the type of funding chosen, the IPI membership calls on the framers of public service broadcasting legislation to draft provisions that provide adequate safeguards and protection against undue pressure and conflicts of interest.

Such safeguards and protections should also uphold editorial independence and the autonomy of the PSB, and should be made within the framework of legislation that recognises that the best way to maintain the broadcaster's credibility is to keep it at arm's length from the government and commercial enterprises.

Oversight bodies for public service broadcasting should be independent of governments and be effectively insulated from political and other pressures.

Resolution on Protection of Sources

Meeting at its Annual General Assembly on 23 May 2005 in Nairobi, Kenya, the IPI membership unanimously called on governments to respect the need for journalists to protect confidential sources of information.

Recently, there have been indications in the United States that the federal and some local governments were trying to stifle the enterprise of journalists by attacking their use of informed but confidential sources. In what amounts to a miscarriage of justice, some reporters in the United States and elsewhere have been jailed; others face prison sentences.

As journalists, we seek no special privileges nor do we seek to usurp the right of the authorities to carry out criminal investigations or to interfere with the administration of justice. Journalists always seek to attribute information to their sources; however, in the interests of society as a whole, we must be able to give assurances of protection to the sources of information given in confidence.

In doing so, we recognise the important principle that journalists must also guard against manipulation by those who would exploit such secrecy for their own ends and we call on journalists to crosscheck their sources.

Journalism has parallel functions to justice, among others, to inform the citizenry -- including government officials of the condition and concerns of societies, to uncover abuses or betrayals of public trust, and to provide opinion, comment, and analysis, as well as platforms for debate.

Independent journalism enhances justice by bringing to light information that is important for the citizenry to know and that might otherwise remain hidden. If news media are to serve as the watchdogs of society, they must be able to gather information without fear of punishment for themselves or their sources.

IPI Resolution on Self-Regulatory Mechanisms

Meeting at its Annual General Assembly on 23 May 2005 in Nairobi, Kenya, the IPI membership unanimously adopted a resolution calling on the news media to consider, where appropriate, the use of strictly voluntary self-regulatory mechanisms to enhance their news reporting and the ethical standards of their journalists.

Throughout the world, the introduction of self-regulatory mechanisms, including standards of practice, internal ombudsmen and voluntary press councils, has followed a growing awareness that a strong link exists between the credibility and reputation of a news media organisation and the trust and confidence it inspires in audiences.

The IPI membership insists that governments should play no role in creating or maintaining such mechanisms. It believes that such approaches offer the best possible protection against governments intent on passing repressive laws, such as legislated press councils, designed to curtail the work of the media. Furthermore, self-regulatory mechanisms are a shield against government-inspired attacks on their work and forestall criticism that the media fail to hold themselves accountable.

Without expressing a particular preference, and while also acknowledging that no single self-regulatory mechanism is suitable to every situation, the IPI membership encourages the news media to consider the different approaches to self-regulation and to choose freely a method that suits their organisation and the media environment in which they work.

IPI Resolution on Nepal

Meeting at its Annual General Assembly on 23 May 2005 in Nairobi, Kenya, the IPI members unanimously called on Nepal's government to restore the right to press freedom and freedom of expression, suspended under the state of emergency.

Bowing to international pressure, on 30 April, Nepal's King Gyanendra Bir Bikram Shah Dev lifted the State of Emergency imposed on the country on 1 February 2005. Despite this, press freedom has not been restored and a ban on political activities continues.

The articles of the Nepalese Constitution protecting people's fundamental rights have been suspended. FM radio stations are banned from broadcasting any news - including opinions and commentaries - unless the government authorises it. Moreover, security personnel were indirectly censoring the news media.

On 2 February, the Nepalese government issued an order banning the media from reporting anything that is against "the spirit and letter of the 1 February royal proclamation and supports and encourages the activities of the terrorists directly or indirectly". The Nepalese government has not withdrawn this order.

On May 18 at least five journalists were still in detention and more than 500 had lost their jobs as a consequence of the censorship imposed on the media and, in particular, on FM radio stations.

The IPI membership calls for the media to be allowed to report freely and without restraint.

Resolution on Increasing Media Controls in Africa

The International Press Institute at its annual assembly in Nairobi, Kenya, on May 23 expresses deep concern that media freedom on the continent is on the retreat at a time when the opposite should be happening through the African Union's propagation of a new economic advancement strategy under Nepad (New Partnership for Africa's Development).

A key component of Nepad is the African Peer Review Mechanism which is to assess "good political governance" among African states that volunteer for such appraisal. Countries with favourable reviews can expect beneficial trade terms with Western nations and increased donor aid.

The African public seeks more freedom of the media to enable journalists more effectively to exercise their watchdog function for good governance. Instead, some governments show they intend to introduce greater restrictions on the media. International surveys regard Africa as one of the least free continents with the press in half the nations in sub-Saharan Africa classified as not free, a third as partly free and only eight countries free*.

Four states in the Southern Africa Development Community - Namibia, Botswana, Swaziland and South Africa - saying they seek greater "professionalism" and/or "responsibility" from the media are threatening more restrictions. Two other nations, Ethiopia and The Gambia, have introduced restrictive media laws while 48 of the 53 African states maintain restrictions through notorious "insult laws".

IPI members condemn these restrictions. Such measures can only reinforce the recent extreme anti-media conduct of the Zimbabwe government. IPI views them not only as contrary to the spirit of Nepad and the African Union's charter on free and independent media but also as serious breaches of Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and Africa's own free media charter, the Windhoek Declaration. IPI calls on the four nations cited above to desist from threatening journalists and on all African governments urgently to abrogate laws that restrict news media.

* Freedom House survey of the world's media, 2004

Resolution to Protest the Killing of an Editor in The Gambia

The membership of the IPI holding its general assembly in Nairobi, Kenya, on May 23 has been horrified by the murder of Deyda Hydara, editor of The Point, The Gambia, on 16 December 2004, by persons unknown, presumably to silence his criticisms of government. Allegations are made that he was killed by a government hit squad. His colleagues mourn him as a journalist who paid the ultimate price for confronting injustice and mis-government.

In the decade before his death, The Gambia, once a peaceful democracy, gained a reputation for persecution of independent media, imprisonment without trial of opponents of the government and the subversion of the judiciary under the dictatorship of former army officer Yahya Jammeh.

No one has been arrested for the killing of Hydara and the police have been accused of being perfunctory in carrying out the investigation. Media persecution has included regular raids, often violent, on the independent press, destruction of property, arson and journalists being harassed, physically attacked, arbitrarily detained by the National Intelligence Agency and sometimes deported.

The IPI has noted that despite international concern about the climate of fear this has created in The Gambia, police investigations have not resulted in one successful prosecution of these crimes against the private media or the opposition.

The government in December introduced the draconian Newspaper Amendment Act and the Criminal Code Amendment which forces private media institutions to re-register under highly onerous conditions -- a bond of US $16,665 has to be posted -- widens the definition of criminal libel. It also provides for six months' imprisonment without the option of a fine for first-time offenders for "seditious and libellous" publications, three years' jail for a subsequent offence and forfeiture to the state of the media in which the alleged seditious libel is published.

IPI calls on the government of The Gambia to institute a thorough investigation into Hydara's death and bring the perpetrators of this and other crimes against the media to justice, repeal restrictive press measures, revert to genuine democratic practice and guarantee the security of journalists.

IPI, noting that the African Union's Commission of Peoples and Human Rights was sited in Banjul when The Gambia was a democracy, calls on the African Union to close the commission's headquarters and transfer it elsewhere to protest The Gambia's descent into authoritarianism.

IPI Resolution on Use of "Insult Laws" in Sierra Leone

The IPI annual assembly in Nairobi, Kenya, unanimously passed a resolution censuring the government of Sierra Leone for failing to comply with the United Nations Security Council resolution 1562 which has called on that government to "decriminalise press offences".

The UN issued the directive to the Sierra Leone government because it criminalises libel and as recently as 5 October 2004, jailed an editor for four years on a charge of seditious libel (Public Order Act of 1965). The editor, Paul Kamara, published an article about the outcome of a 1967 Commission of Inquiry into fraud allegations relating to the Sierra Leone Produce Marketing Board. The commission found that the current president of Sierra Leone, Ahmad Tejan Kabbah, then permanent secretary to the Trade Ministry, had allegedly been involved in the fraud.

Kamara was immediately arrested and jailed after a trial before a judge alleged to have been highly critical of Kamara in public before the trial and known to be a friend of the president.

Since then Kamara has been moved from his cell to one normally used for dangerous criminals and where, it is alleged, he is being kept in solitary confinement.

IPI condemns the use of "insult laws" such as the one used against Kamara as being instruments of censorship to prevent heads of state and their governments from being held accountable. It calls on Sierra Leone to release Kamara immediately and to comply with the UN directive by abrogating its laws which criminalise media activity. Meanwhile, IPI also seeks assurances from the government that Kamara is in good health and is not being ill-treated in jail.

IPI Resolution on the "Insult" Law Case of Jose Luis Gutierrez and Rosa Maria Lopez

Meeting at its Annual General Assembly on 23 May 2005 in Nairobi, Kenya, the IPI membership unanimously adopted a resolution calling upon the Spanish government to retract an "insult" law under which journalists Jose Luis Gutierrez and Rosa Maria Lopez were convicted of "insulting" the late King of Morocco, Hassan II.

The Spanish Supreme Court found that the contested article was truthful but that it "disturbed" King Hassan's "honour" by reporting in December 1995 that a truck loaded with five tons of hashish had been seized at the Spanish port of Algeciras. According to the article, the truck belonged to Dominios Reales, a company owned by the Moroccan Royal Crown. The newspaper Diario 16 front-paged an article by Lopez with the headline, "Hassan II Family Enterprise Linked to Drug Trafficking." Gutierrez, who was then the paper's editor-in-chief, was convicted under a 1966 Franco-era press law making the editor responsible for everything published by his paper.

Two lower courts ruled that Gutierrez and Lopez had disturbed Hassan's right "to keep his honour" and awarded him financial damages, the amount to be set at the end of the legal process. The Supreme Court dismissed an appeal, and a decision is pending by the Constitutional Court on whether to accept a further appeal on the principle underpinning the finding by the lower courts.

The courts have found that foreigners, including heads of state, have a right to defend their "honour" under the Spanish "insult" law. Along with leading world judicial bodies like the European Court of Human Rights, the Human Rights Commission of the Organisation of American States and the U.S. Supreme Court, the IPI membership believes that heads of state and other public officials must accept a greater degree of criticism than a private citizen and also accept that the news media may investigate and criticise their activities.

By allowing foreign heads of state to bring suit in Spain to restrict news media, the Spanish judiciary has created an anomalous situation whereby the laws of a member of the European Union - contrary to its international and domestic commitments to press freedom - may be used to restrict the press on behalf of a foreign country with a record of suppressing freedom of expression.

This not only tarnishes Spanish democracy, but also undermines the European Union when it seeks to persuade countries around the world to uphold press freedom and freedom of expression. Pending formal repeal of such obsolete provisions that are unacceptable in a modern democracy, the IPI holds that Spanish courts should rule in the spirit of the need to remove such undemocratic legal anomalies.

ENDS

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